CD Review of The Burning Hour by Test Your Reflex

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The Burning Hour
starstarhalf starno starno star Label: RCA
Released: 2007
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When you get an advance copy of an album which offers an extremely vague suggestion as to when it’s going to be released – in this case, the phrase in question is a decidedly non-specific “in stores early 2007” – any critic worth his salt is going to be thinking the same thing: that the album’s on the cusp of not getting released at all, but that the label figured they’d send out promos and see what kind of buzz they get, and if it’s significant, then they’ll add it to the release schedule.

After giving a spin to Test Your Reflex’s debut, The Burning Hour, however, you’ll see that RCA probably had a more specific intent in mind: to see if the whole “new new wave” movement was going to have legs. Any skepticism you may have about the accuracy of this theory will be put to rest after one listen to “New Year,” which appears to have no less lofty a goal than to encapsulate everything about the Killers’ Hot Fuss into one easy-to-digest four-minute nugget -- but, then again, this assurance is contingent upon your having not already bought into the premise at any point during the three songs that precede it. (Amazingly, however, “New Year” is not the album’s first single; that honor belongs to “Pieces of the Sun,” which doesn’t possess nearly as memorable a hook.)

The Burning Hour is full of ‘80s bombast, so much so that it really ought to have been produced by Steve Lillywhite rather than Pat Regan, who’s known far more for his work with heavy metal artists. We’re led to understand from Test Your Reflex's bio that the band – whose members’ ages range from 19 to 21 – has been “inspired by the sonic grandeur of classic albums like U2's The Joshua Tree, Peter Gabriel's So, and Joni Mitchell's Blue, as well as all things Bowie and Eno,” but the only member of that bunch you can really hear is U2, which is particularly noticeable on “I Am Alive.” The bouncy keyboards on “Thinking of You” sound vaguely reminiscent of the Cure’s “Close to Me,” while “Black Hearts” will find people making the Killers comparisons again. “I Won’t Follow” starts as a gentle ballad before building to an anthemic chorus, and “This Year (I Hope We Fall In Love)” has a slight Cure similarity as well, though this time the point of comparison is the chiming guitar work of “Friday I’m In Love.” “I Know You’re Lonely,” meanwhile, even brings to mind Fiction Factory’s “(Feels Like) Heaven,” of all things.

Although it makes for decent enough listening, The Burning Hour offers little in its sonic homage to the ‘80s that hasn’t already been done better by others; it’s the work of a band that’s inevitably gonna be stuck suffering the slings and arrows of critics calling them the poor man’s Killers, which means that the big test of Test Your Reflex’s mettle will come with how they react to those accusations. Given that their bio is written in such a manner as to suggest that their style is completely and totally unique without ever adequately describing it to anyone’s satisfaction – that is, unless you have any idea what “a sublime synthesis of the accessible with the unexpected” might be – one senses that the group’s feathers are going to be easily ruffled at the suggestion that they sound like half a dozen other artists…even if they do.

~Will Harris